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Turkey protests German search of Libya-bound ship

Footage filmed by crew shows a German soldier landing from a helicopter onto the Turkish cargo ship
Footage filmed by crew shows a German soldier landing from a helicopter onto the Turkish cargo ship - Demiroren News Agency (DHA)/AFP
3 min

Turkey protested to Germany and the EU on Monday after German forces belonging to an EU military mission boarded and tried to search a Turkish cargo ship that they suspected of taking weapons to Libya illegally. 

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Soldiers from the frigate Hamburg, part of an EU mission enforcing a UN arms embargo, boarded the Roseline A overnight but withdrew after Turkey raised objections with the EU mission, which had ordered the search, the German Defence Ministry said.

Turkey released footage showing armed men in military uniform marshalling sailors with their hands on their heads on the bridge of what it said was the Roseline A, at sea southwest of the Greek Peloponnese peninsula.

Germany’s Defense Ministry said Turkey ordered a halt to the search, forcing the German personnel to depart before completing their work. During their search, the German team had found no cargo that contravened the arms embargo, German Defense Ministry spokesman Christian Thiels told reporters in Berlin. 

This was the second incident between Turkey and naval forces from a NATO ally country enforcing an arms blockade against Libya. In June, NATO launched an investigation over an incident between Turkish warships and a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean, after France said one of its frigates was “lit up” three times by Turkish naval targeting radar when it tried to approach a Turkish civilian ship suspected of involvement in arms trafficking.

Search ends after 'persistent objections'

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said the German warship’s personnel conducted the search despite the captain's statements about what his ship was carrying. The search ended after Turkey's “persistent objections," it said. 

“We protest this act which was unauthorised and conducted by force,” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement. He added that Turkey may seek compensation for damage or losses.

Aksoy renewed Turkey's criticism of the Rome-headquartered EU naval mission which aims to halt arm shipments to Libya and which Ankara has accused of favouring Libya's eastern-based forces against the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord.

Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onel later summoned the Italian ambassador, the German Embassy's Charge d' Affaires as well as the EU's envoy to Turkey to formally protest the incident, the ministry said. 

'Biscuits and other material such as paints'

A senior official said the German team terminated its search aboard the Rosaline-A around dawn after “understanding that there was nothing but humanitarian aid, biscuits and other material such as paints on board.” 

The freighter continued on its way to Misrata after the search, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with Turkish government rules. 

Thiels, the German Defense Ministry spokesman, said the German crew requested permission to board. 

“Upon receiving no reply, a German search team was brought by helicopter to the freighter and commenced the search, and the crew was ‘cooperative',” Thiels said.

While the team continued its search, German authorities were notified by Turkey that they were disallowing it. The search was then ended and the team sent back to the frigate, Thiels said.

The German official said the order to board the ship came from mission's operational headquarters in Rome.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

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